A School Progress Report for the Brontë Sisters 

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
July 22 2014 4:04 PM

A School Progress Report for the Brontë Sisters 

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

In 1900, noting that fans had lately picked over the history of the Brontë family so “diligently” that “there can be but little left for gleaners,” the British Journal of Education republished these reports on four Brontë sisters’ unhappy year at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The reports, which assess the sisters’ preparation and work during the year they were at the school, are drawn from the school’s register. 

Patrick Brontë, a minister, sent his four oldest daughters to this school three years after his wife died. The four siblings were 10, nine, eight, and almost six when they entered, and had had almost no formal schooling.

Advertisement

In its report, the Clergy Daughters’ School described them as knowing little “systematically.” The girls were also assessed for their ability to “work” (or do needlepoint)—a duty some of them performed “neatly” and some “badly.” The description of Charlotte as an “indifferent” writer makes a particular contrast with the feverish intensity with which she and her teenage siblings later produced novels and stories.

Maria and Elizabeth, the two oldest Brontë sisters, died quickly after being sent home from their short stints at Cowan Bridge. “Typhoid fever,” the British Library writes in an entry accompanying their digitized version of this report, “[led] to a number of deaths among its pupils, thought to have been exacerbated by the school’s poor food and harsh regime.” Maria and Elizabeth, escaping typhoid, instead contracted consumption at the school and died (as the terminology of the time had it) “in decline.”

Sally Shuttleworth writes that the description of Jane Eyre’s controlling Lowood Institution, where Jane is sent, was inspired by Charlotte’s time at Cowan Bridge. She suggests that the head of the Clergy Daughters’ School, the Reverend Carus Wilson, may have been the model for Mr. Brocklehurst, Lowood’s tyrannical and unsympathetic master. 

BronteSchoolReport
The Journal of Education: A Monthly Record and Review, January 1900.

The British Library.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.